About Defenders of the Declaration
In 2012 the Leadership Program of the Rockies (LPR) made a bold move: we changed the name and scope of the renowned Defenders of the Constitution lecture series to the Defenders of the Declaration. While the curriculum remains just as content rich, the new title more accurately reflects LPR’s unique emphasis on the Timeless Principles of our American Founding. This educational project combines original source reading materials and classroom instruction aimed at teaching LPR students the principles of the United States Declaration of Independence and the foundation of constitutional government.
Freedom is rooted in a simple, yet revolutionary, idea: that every human being always and everywhere—regardless of skin color, gender, religious beliefs, social status or wealth—is born with a free mind and the equal natural rights to his life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness.
By nature, there is no political hierarchy among human beings, no natural principle of who rules and who gets ruled. As Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.” This is the simple meaning of the famous line from the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal.”
But the political implications are potentially revolutionary: If all men are created equal in terms of their natural rights, then the only legitimate form of government is government by consent of the governed. Government without consent is morally wrong.
Further, if all human beings possess rights by nature—if human freedom is rooted in the natural freedom of the mind—then the only legitimate purpose of government is to protect the natural rights that exist prior to government itself. Government exists to protect rights, not grant them.
And a government of limited purpose ought to be one of limited power. That is why “We the People” create a government by ordaining and establishing a Constitution that grants to government only certain, enumerated, and limited powers. We the People empower government, not vice versa.
The Declaration of Independence, in short, offers two teachings that are moral no less than political, and intrinsically bound up with one another: Equal, individual, natural freedom and limited, constitutional government by consent of the governed.
Abraham Lincoln, perhaps the greatest student of the Declaration, described the Declaration’s principles metaphorically as an “apple of gold,” while the Constitution, he suggested, is the “picture of silver subsequently framed around it.” “The picture was made not to conceal or destroy the apple, but to adorn and preserve it,” Lincoln argued, “the picture was made for the apple, not the apple for the picture.” The Constitution was made to protect the rights and natural freedom announced in the Declaration, not the other way around. “So let us act that neither picture nor apple shall ever be blurred, or bruised or broken,” he concluded. “That we may so act, we must study and understand the points of danger.”
That is the purpose of Defenders of the Declaration: To study the freedom principles of the Declaration of Independence and understand the “points of danger” so that we can better defend those principles and the freedom that rests upon them. Students will read and discuss original source materials, including literature produced by the most influential leaders who held “those truths to be self-evident” as well as those who have denied those them. Throughout the program, LPR students will be evaluated regarding their knowledge of the political theory and practice of the Declaration, including at least one writing assignment. At the end of the program, we will name a winner of the “Defenders of the Declaration” award.